Iraq-born Zvi Gabay, pictured when he was serving as Israeli ambassador to Dublin
The tragedy (or 'Nakba') of the Jews from Arab countries has been ignored - but it is not too late to remember it, argues Iraq-born Zvi Gabay in the Israeli daily Maariv (with thanks: Yoram):
At the end of January every year, a humble memorial service is held at the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, in memory of the Martyrs of Iraq. 80 Iraqi Jews surrendered their souls since the establishment of the State of Israel. They were executed by hanging, died in torture or while escaping to Israel. Jews have experienced similar difficult tragedies in Arab countries; Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Yemen, Egypt. Jews paid with their lives before the establishment of Israel, and in retaliation for Israel's victories over Arab armies in the battlefield.
On the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel, there was a horrifying anti-Jewish atmosphere in all Arab countries, accompanied by inflammatory anti-Jewish declarations, including from upon the podium of the United Nations. Pursuant to Israel’s birth, serious plots began to be formed by the Arab authorities, as well as damage to person and to property by the masses. All these forced the Jews from Arab countries to flee and emigrate from every Arab country, while leaving behind all their personal and communal possessions. From a population of approximately one million Jews in Arab countries on the eve of establishment of the State of Israel, nowadays there are only very few Jews residing in Arab countries.
Few are those who remember the horrible human tragedies experienced by the Jews in Arab countries. Their catastrophe is almost forgotten; it is not properly taught in schools, it is not discussed in the media and it is not marked either nationally or within the United Nations institutions. Very few people in the world are aware of the fact that approximately half of Israel's population originates from Arab countries, where Jews have lived for thousands of years.
Arab propaganda has wisely concealed from international discussions the chapter of population exchange conducted between Israel and Arab countries during Israel’s Independence War. It repeatedly claimed the "right of return" for Palestinian Arabs who fought Israel, some of whom fled fearing harm. Simultaneously, Arab propaganda has succeeded to ingrain in the general public worldwide the notion that Israeli Jews "have come from Poland and Germany…," while the "Palestinian Nakba", which occurred through no other fault than that of the Arabs, is the only disaster tak
This historical distortion of the demographic and political reality has occurred in part due to our own fault. Israel – the government and organizations of Jewish people from Arab countries – must place the issue of Jews from Arab countries on the agenda, as a main part of the history of the Israeli people in their country. A national memorial service must be organized for the hundreds of Jewish victims who lost their lives in Arab countries. It is mandatory that the heritage of the Jews from Arab countries is studied in schools. Simultaneously, the issue of Jews from Arab countries must be raised on international podiums.
Pursuant to pressure imposed by Jewish organizations abroad and a resolution of the United States Congress, two years ago, on February 22nd 2010, Israel’s Knesset promulgated an act for payment of compensation to Jewish refugees who fled from Arab countries within the framework of the peace process. There is no doubt that this is a first step in the right direction, however, the act must be promoted, in order to achieve compensation for the substantial Jewish assets left in Arab countries. The matter of Jews from Arab countries has been abandoned in Israel for too long and without an understandable reason. The sooner we rectify the injustice, the better it will be.
The author was an ambassador and a Deputy Director-General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.